Other than taking the shot that puts the trophy buck on the ground, few things create more excitement for a deer hunter than the trip to the taxidermy shop to get the first look at the finished mount.
The result is usually one of ecstatic pride, but in some cases it creates dreadful disappointment. It need not ever be the latter if the proper procedures are taken to prepare a buck’s head for the mounting work.
Without correct care on the front end — no pun intended — the mount could turn out less attractive than was eagerly anticipated. Plan ahead and get the job done right from the moment you shoot the buck until it hangs on your wall.
It’s likely you already know that the Mrs. does not really want another deer head mounted in the house, anywhere. That is unless it happens to be hers or one taken by one of the kids. In any case, it pays to do a little advance planning about where you might want to hang the mount, and then the kind of appearance, look, or mount angle that would look best in that situation.
When you get to the taxidermist, you are going to be asked which way you want the head turned. At that point, you don’t have a lot of time to decide, so know what you want before you take the head to a shop.
The standard angle, of course, is a straight-on look, a style that will fit just about anywhere. But, if you already have one looking right or left, then you might consider having the next mount looking at the other one or reverse.
In a group setting, for instance, three mounts might look really cool if the center one is straight on with the other two looking toward the center.
Expect the taxidermist to ask what “look” or position to put the head. There is the typical straight look, a sneak with the head down or cocked sideways or other options. As you research other mounts, decide ahead of time on these choices.
What about a plaque? Do you want the head mounted on wood, synthetic, or no back plate plaque at all? Many options are available, and some hunters create their own bases. Take some photos of mounts you like to show the taxidermist you select.
Choosing an artist
A taxidermy ad in an outdated phone book, or even found through a modern Google search, might not tell the whole story. It’s often difficult to discern quality, reliability, dedication, value, and skill in an advertisement.
So what does a hunter look for in picking a good taxidermist?
Part of that decision depends on exactly what you are looking to have done and how much customization you are willing to pay for in production of the final product. But, even a basic mount should be done well.
When it comes to mounting a white-tailed buck head, just about any ol’ “stuff it dead” shop that calls itself a taxidermy business can stretch a hide over a foam form, pop in some plastic eyes, and well, you get the picture.
Hopefully you don’t want such a mount.
If cost is a consideration and corners must be cut, a cheaper option with less chance for mistake would be a European mount — bleached skull and antlers.
But if you want a true work of art, and a quality reproduction of Mother Nature’s work, do a little homework before you rush to a taxidermist with your trophy. Do this background research before taking the buck, so you’ll know where to take it once it’s on the ground and in the truck.
Knowing in advance whom you want to do your mount will reduce time and anxiety. Time is often of the essence and a serious factor in getting back a quality mount from the taxidermy shop.
First, I would ask around and talk to other hunters. Get their recommendations. If you hear a name coming up time and time again, then there is a strong likelihood that it is a taxidermy shop worth checking out. Visit that shop to inspect their display mounts.
Don’t hesitate to ask a taxidermist for credentials: evidence of taxidermy awards or contest ribbons, special recognitions, training, certificates, or other indicators of quality performance. Get a brochure or listing of mounting services offered and a price list to compare to other shops. Find out how long a deer head mount usually takes. For some shops it could be up to a year wait or longer.
It’s too late this year, but the best way to comparatively shop and for a taxidermist and plan your mount is to visit the annual Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza, always held the first weekend of August at the Trade Mart in Jackson.
Spend a lot of time admiring the hundreds of mounts displayed at the Big Buck Contest. Look beyond the antlers, though, and study the artistry of the taxidermist.
Decide which poses you like, as well as the plaques and other characteristics you’d like in your finished mount. Take photos, which you can show the taxidermist. Also look for the names of the taxidermists on the mounts that you like, information that is usually included on the plaque.
This research should yield some taxidermy candidates to consider well ahead of the hunting season.
Prep work is critical
No matter how good the taxidermist is, if a hunter provides him a poor product on the front end, then the end result is going to suffer.
“Obviously I cannot be expected to produce a quality deer mount if the head is brought into my shop in poor condition,” said Dan Heasley of Dan Heasley Taxidermy (danheasleytaxidermy.com) on Highway 18 near Raymond. “Even though we can work wonders, you can’t let the thing ride around in the back of your truck for several days and then hope a taxidermist can make a first class mount out of it. We need the deer head in our shop as soon as possible after the kill.”
Heasley runs a top shop with many years of experience in mounting all types of game, from Mississippi’s native critters to the exotic. Heasley is a member of Safari Club International and is a national, regional, and state award-winning taxidermist.
“The real work toward getting back a quality deer head mount starts the minute the buck hits the ground,” Heasley said. “The quicker the careful removal of the head is from the body of the deer, the better it is. You don’t have to worry about skinning or caping the buck head before bringing it to us. It is a difficult task best left to those who know what to do.
“As you prep the head for delivery to our shop, if in doubt, leave lots more hide and hair down below or past the front legs as possible. This will give us more material to work with and we can always trim it back to what we need to cover the mounting form.”
It is important to never cut the hide too short above the front legs, and do not cut across the front of the deer on the lower neck area. There is a natural crease of hair that goes straight up the middle of the neck in front that should never be cut up toward the head. It could be sewn and repaired, but it is best never to cut that area open.
“If you cannot get the head to our shop that day, and the ambient air temperature is above say 50 degrees, then I recommend you put the head and attached hide in the freezer, laying the hide out flat first to cool down,” Heasley said. “Then roll it up.
“If it is going to be several hours before you can deliver the head, put it in a strong plastic bag, and put bags of ice around the head in the plastic sack. The biggest thing about keeping a buck head in good condition for delivery to be mounted is to keep it cool and dry. Get the cooled down head to us as soon as feasible. We’ll take it from there.”